, Port Arthur, Texas

October 15, 2013

Five bouts with breast cancer and Margaret Oubre learns to love life one day at time

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Margaret Oubre has learned to love life — to stop worrying about all the things that don’t matter, and, perhaps most of all,  to take life one day at a time.

After all, that’s all anybody can really do.

Those words, she’s heard them all her life, have become the 79-year-old’s mantra during a long, seemingly never-ending battle with various forms of cancer.

Oubre, like many of the female relatives in her family, has the mutated BRCA 1 gene. Because of the mutation, the gene does not do what its supposed to do — to produce tumor suppresser proteins.

The gene is inherited, and that’s why Oubre has watched so many of her female relatives succumb to cancer during her life.

“My mom, my three sisters, two nieces, two grandnieces — all dead with breast cancers,” Oubre said from the Port Arthur home she shares with her husband of 31 years, Ora Oubre.

Her daughter, Suzanne Young, of Houston, also has the inherited gene, but has elected to beat the odds by having her ovaries, her uterus, and her breasts removed.

Young’s mother didn’t have those bold choices that many women have today. Actress and activist Angelina Jolie recently had a double mastectomy because she carried the BRCA 1 gene.

Though Jolie wasn’t the first, her star-power brought awareness to the gene that can affect so many in one family.

Oubre was barely engaged to her husband 31 years ago when doctors determined in 1991 that she had double ovarian cancer, and that the disease had metastasized. At the time, at least for her, the diagnosis was a death sentence.

Doctors offered her very little hope she would survive long enough to marry her sweetheart, let alone raise the young family she had from a previous marriage.

“They gave me a 5 percent chance of survival,” Oubre recalled.

Somehow, miraculously, she beat the dire odds, married again and raised a blended family.

But, along the way the battle against recurring cancer has become something she’s learned not only to live with, but to beat.

From 1981 when Oubre was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she’s battled breast cancer in 1987, ovarian cancer again in 2010, liver cancer in 2012, and then again in 2013.

In 2010, when the ovarian cancer came back, Oubre said she was surprised. After all, her ovaries had been taken out years earlier during the first go-round.

She learned that ovarian cancer has seeds that can spread through the body. Those seeds can lie dormant until something triggers it.

Oubre’s life may sound grim, but she will be the first to say it has been anything but that.

“I have never been afraid or worried about it,” she said of the cancer.

She credits her resilience, and her peace of mind, from prayer, and her strong belief in God.

“I have had so much prayer support, and that’s 95 percent of the battle,” she said.

When she was first diagnosed, Oubre was running the service station on 32nd Street that she and her first husband had owned prior to their divorce.

It was Port Arthur’s first self-service station, and was her’s — granted as part of the divorce settlement.

“People would come in the station; they had heard about me. They looked so sorrowful toward me,” she recalled.

At the time, cancer treatment was not very far progressed. Even so, Oubre was sure she could beat it.

“I had little kids at home, so I had to live,” she said.

She remembers taking vitamins and drinking carrot juice by the gallons.

“After Ora and I were engaged, we’d buy 25 pounds of organic carrots a week,” she said.

Chemo and radiation therapy were the order of the day. Both left her feeling drained.

“The first time I had surgery there was nothing for nausea. I was in the hospital twice for nausea, but now they just give you a shot of Atavan, and a big shot of steroids, and on you go with your life,” she said.

Her battle today with cancer is easier because of the treatment advances, but the disease is coming back faster. Her physicians have said cancer now would be something ongoing. The chemo, which she has always responded to well, will knock it down, but the cancer will come back with more frequency.

“My mother, I cannot say enough about her,” Young said. “If you look in the Webster’s Dictionary under “servant,” you will see her. We have a lot of respect for her.  She’s been a mother and a father to us for most of our lives, and has had to step in a lot of places when her sisters died; she’s been a very good aunt.”

Watching her mother deal with cancer all those years is something Young hoped her two children will never have to do. That’s the main reason she elected to have preventative surgeries.

“When they told me I had the gene, my first question was “how soon can I have the ovaries and my uterus removed,” Young recalled.

The decision, she said, was one she talked over with her husband, but it really was a no-brainer.

“My breasts are not so important I would not lose my life over them, she said.

Having the gene can be heartbreaking, almost like a curse on an entire family, but it can also serve as a safety net to keep from finding out one has advanced stage cancer, Young said.

“If you know you are BRCA 1, it puts the control in your hand to either deal with it, or at least get checkups on a regular basis,” Young said. “I really do believe if breast cancer is stopped early, it is a survivable disease. Several of my cousins did not deal with it, and now they are no longer with us.”

Cancer is not the death sentence disease it once was, Young said.

“Don’t be scared; it’s just a bump in the road. Just have faith, go to the doctor, get a good support group and just get rid of it. That might be easy for me to say because I’ve had such a great example in my mom. I am not as scared of it because of her.”